It has been said whoever controls space controls the world – and Vladimir Putin is certainly trying his best to do so.
Russia is planning a hypersonic rocket-like jet which can strike targets from space with nuclear missiles.
Flying at five times the speed of sound, the bomber will be able to reach any point on earth in under two hours.
Billed as the first of its kind, it would be able to drop a nuclear warhead before returning to its base in Russia.
A functional engine will be developed by 2020, according to Colonel Alexei Solodovnikov, who is working on the project.
He said: ‘This will be a strategic aircraft. It will fly into outer space in order to strike, using nuclear bombs, and then return to the airfield.’
The test engine for the PAK-DA bomber is expected to be shown at the Army 2016 International Military Technology Forum in September near Moscow.
Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Russian Strategic Missile Forces, confirmed the model engine for the bomber was built and had been successfully tested.
He said: ‘An engine for a promising space plane has been developed at Strategic Rocket Forces Academy. The unit’s operational ability has been proven.
‘The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace.
‘Upon command it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base.’ Mr Solodovnikov added: ‘It will [be able to accelerate to] hypersonic speed in rocket mode.’
According to the Strategic Missile Forces Academy, the engine will operate in two modes, one using kerosene fuel for conventional flight and the other methane and oxygen to power the craft into space.
British firm Reaction Engines says its own hypersonic engine will be ready by 2020. The European Space Agency has invested more than £7.5million toward the development of the SABRE engine, which could enable aircraft to fly anywhere in four hours.
US officials have not revealed whether their own next generation bomber will fly at hypersonic speed, but the US Air Force said in 2007 its aircraft would likely be subsonic to control costs.
To fly hypersonic means flying at Mach 5, five times the speed of sound at 3,840 mph, or faster.
Britain’s closest programme to the Russian hypersonic jet is a top secret stealth drone being developed by BAE Systems. The £200million Taranis aircraft will be the most advanced built by British engineers.
It is expected to provide the basis for fleets of supersonic unmanned bombers that can attack deep into enemy territory while evading sophisticated defences.
An RAF source said: ‘The RAF has a futuristic programme called Taranis which is a stealth drone with similar capabilities but it does not operate in the outer atmosphere.’
Britain’s current fastest jet is the Eurofighter Typhoon, which has a top speed of around Mach 2, or 1,550 mph. Speaking about US capabilities compared to the Russians’, the RAF source said: ‘Whatever you can imagine in your wildest dreams the US has probably advanced thirty years on that. If the Russians are developing it the US will already be streets ahead.’
After the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, by the USSR in 1957, then US senator Lyndon Johnson warned: ‘Whoever controls space controls the world.’ In 1983 president Ronald Reagan proposed the creation of the infamous space-based Strategic Defense Initiative.
This plan for a satellite-regulated missile shield that could automatically dismantle incoming nuclear weapons was immediately dubbed Star Wars. It was launched after the president’s speech testifying to the superior nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union.
Although work was begun on the programme, the technology proved too complex and much of the research was eventually cancelled or scaled back.